Salt

Worry evaporates like rain from sand
in the warm wind.

Granules of self begin to
reconstruct into a solid shape;
Suddenly I have toes
and a torso,
ears, and a nose.

The sound of the ocean transmutes
the agony of self-analysis.
It turns remnants of fear into salt,
the life-giving brine that birthed the world.

I picture my grandmother squeezing a pinch of that salt
from a tiny porcelain dish on her kitchen counter
and flicking it over her left shoulder,
asking god for protection.

The crystals hover in mid-air,
glinting in the morning light
before tumbling joyously onto the tile floor.

That which ails us
also cures us.

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Spare Change

His words came out strung together like they were separated by dashes instead of spaces. Spare-any-change-thank-you. Spare-any-change-thank-you. Spare-any-change-thank-you.

It took me a block’s walk to decipher what he was saying. The hurried rhythm of his chant tap-danced in my ears as I turned the corner toward Pioneer Square in downtown Portland.

A young man in a tan leather jacket leaned against the black iron gate of the Pioneer Courthouse and casually thumbed through his phone. A few feet away, a woman wearing an oversized pink sweatshirt rummaged through a shiny, silver garbage can.

Was it the moodiness of a gray, winter day luring me to further analyze, or were the man’s words about more than just pocket money? Instead of asking for coins, what if he were asking for real change? As in: Can you spare to make a change? Thank you.

Three blocks later, while waiting for the crosswalk to turn, a man sitting in a wheelchair suddenly burst into song.

“I’m so tired of this world, I feel like I could bust!” he crooned to a surprisingly cheerful melody. His weathered, tan skin stood out beneath a white baseball cap.

We made eye contact and his lips parted into a sheepish smile; a beige, unlit cigarette hung from his bottom lip. It was like a confession, and I was his witness. I returned his smile, and then crossed the street, feeling both humbled by this tiny moment of connection and weighed down by my own sadness about the way things are.

And so on my bus ride home, I wondered what it would take to shift our culture of  individualism to one that truly cared about the well-being of the collective. As long as we keep failing to recognize how simply another’s position could have been ours, we deny our shared vulnerability in an uncertain world. (A flurry of bad luck and our lot could be quite different.)

Maybe things will change in 2019, maybe they won’t; but today I was reminded how a simple walk through the city can prompt us to consider whether or not we can, collectively, spare any change.

Emily

The sun casts a river of amber glitter atop the slow-moving waves lapping the side of my kayak, nudging me gradually out from shore. A large white sea lion eyes me from atop the rectangular dock a handful of yards away. I glance to my left and see your mother grinning while your son paddles their kayak from between her legs. To my right, near a leaning madrone on the water’s edge, I sense your presence. Not more than a dozen feet away is your daughter, the one I held just days after she was born, the same days during which you passed to the other side. She is accompanied by your best friend and her daughters, and they are wading into the sound, shrieking and laughing as the cold water shocks their bare calves.

Earlier that day we visited a bridge tucked into the woods beneath old growth doug firs, a place I understand you held dear and your children truly love. I watched them explore their surroundings, finding rocks, tossing sticks into the creek and gathering fern fronds to build with. I remember doing the same things with my sisters when I was a little girl.

It’s been five years since I saw your family, and since you left us. As I drove up the 101 North toward your yellow beach house by the sound, I had an overwhelming feeling that you were near. It was strange and magical, and I cried my way to the driveway before gathering myself to knock on the door. The weekend that followed was filled with stories and laughter and porch sitting; I even taught the kids how to hula hoop on the lawn. Your children carry your features on their faces, and the glimpses I caught of you made my heart ache and soar all at once. I miss you all over again and yet, I am comforted by spending time with your loved ones and learning about the corners of earth you treasured most.

At dusk, I sat in a white lounge chair gazing out at the two islands on the horizon, and as I scanned the water, drawing my eyes closer to the shoreline, I had to close and open them again, disbelieving what I saw. It was you – a faint outline of a woman’s profile with her hair down, the cool saltwater cupping her shoulders as she gazed out to sea. And then minutes later, a flicker of light danced across the water beneath the sinking sun, and it was an orange buoy bobbing on the waves. But I’ll never forget that image of you skinny dipping at sunset in the place where I’ve been told you felt free and comforted all your life by nature, family, friends and traditions.

I want to think of you now like this poem reads – resting ashore where you are surrounded by the salt, soil, air and trees of your childhood; safe, at peace, having arrived at last.

On this wondrous sea
Sailing silently,
Ho! Pilot, ho!
Knowest thou the shore
Where no breakers roar—
Where the storm is o’er?

In the peaceful west
Many the sails at rest—
The anchors fast—
Thither I pilot thee—
Land Ho! Eternity!
Ashore at last!

-Emily Dickensen

 

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